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School Board of Trustees delivers inconsistent punishment to students

Ombudsmen Act 1975
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Ombudsmen Act 1975
Sir John Robertson
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Expulsion—smoking—improper discrimination by Board of Trustees vis-a-vis another pupil— recommendation to delete information from records

The parents of a student complained that their daughter had been unfairly expelled from a boarding hostel at High School. The School conducted a search for cigarette smokers and found two of the hostel students in possession of cigarettes. One student was expelled from the hostel and the other was not. The complainant believed that their daughter had been treated unfairly because she was the only one expelled. The Ombudsman’s investigation into the complaint centred on what evidence had been found and what the reasons for the expulsion of one girl were when the other was not expelled. The Board advised that the student who was not expelled had only used cigarettes on ‘exeat’ weekends, and the student who was expelled had smoked them in the local suburb. As a first step, the Ombudsman considered the by-laws of the Boards of Trustees. By-law 10 stated that:

‘Any association with smoking, alcohol or drugs absolutely prohibited on school premises or in any situation where a student may be linked with the school’.

Further there were rules pertaining to the hostel which were contained in a separate booklet which stated that:

‘any involvement with drugs, alcohol or smoking is strict forbidden and breach of this rule results in expulsion from the hostel.’

When the Ombudsman examined the statements made by the hostel staff it became apparent that both girls were involved with cigarette smoking. The girl who had not been expelled was found to be in possession of 80 cigarettes and a cellophane wrapper was found in her basket. This led to the view that she was as heavily involved with cigarettes as was the girl who was expelled as she had been found to be in possession of two cigarettes and a packet of spent butts. The Ombudsman advised the Board of the outcome of these enquiries and noted that their view that the girl who had not been expelled only smoked cigarettes on ‘exeat’ weekends was incorrect as she had made a statement to the Principal that she had also smoked on the way to the dairy adjacent to the school.

The Ombudsman made a recommendation to the Board that as the girl who had not been expelled had now completed her schooling it seemed apparent that the matter should be referred back to the Board of Trustees with a recommendation that reference to the complainant’s daughter’s expulsion from the hostel for smoking be deleted from all school records. The Ombudsman was of the view that the expelled girl had been treated unfairly in comparison to the lack of action taken against the girl who had not been expelled and that this was unfair.

On receipt of this recommendation the Board advised the complainants that they would not implement the recommendation unless a related dispute over the payment of the girl’s boarding fees was settled. When the Ombudsman was advised of this by the complainants she wrote immediately to the Board advising them that my recommendation was not conditional, and that it was inappropriate for the Board to use it for purposes other than that for which it was intended. The Board of Trustees then advised that the recommendation would be implemented unconditionally.

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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